Friday, April 21, 2017

Plug-in Hybrid's (PHEV's) in South Africa

Plug-in Hybrid's combine an electric motor and battery with either a petrol or diesel internal combustion engine (ICE). As the name suggests, and what differentiates them from conventional hybrids, is that they have a plug to charge the battery that powers the electric motor. Typically a PHEV vehicle will be charged overnight (or like an all electric vehicle it can be charged at a charging point) and when turned on first uses the electric motor for propulsion, when the battery runs out of charge the car will automatically switch to the internal combustion engine. In some instances, depending on the model, both power sources may be used at the same time.

Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid
The electric range of PHEV's range from about 20km to, in the case of the Chevy Volt, over 80km. If  your usual daily mileage is less than the range of the battery in your PHEV then you might find you rarely use the ICE component in day to day driving and just use the car as a pure electric vehicle. However if you're planning a longer journey, you do have the longer range of an ICE motor and the easy and quick availability of petrol or diesel to power it. Unlike a pure battery electric vehicle you don't need to try and find a charging point and wait for the batteries to charge.

The downside of having the ICE motor in a Hybrid is like conventional gas powered cars, it needs regular servicing and fluid/filter changes. With battery electric vehicles there is relatively little maintenance required and usually extends to rotating the wheels and topping up the windscreen washer fluid. Obviously a PHEV is still better than an ICE vehicle, especially if you mainly use the electric motor, because you'll be saving on fuel costs.

Though I'd like to see South African roads full of fully electric vehicles, it's an unavoidable fact that as yet there are few charging points in the country and none out of the major metropolitan centres. Add to that, the maximum range of electric vehicles currently on sale in the country is 160km (BMW i3) and it's obvious that with our long inter-city distances, anything other than urban travel in an electric vehicle is sadly not possible in South Africa as yet.

Plug-in Hybrids could be the way to introduce the benefits of electromobility to South Africans without the worry of running out of battery power and having to find somewhere to charge. At the moment there are very few PHEV's available in South Africa and they're all a bit pricey. Here's a list of the ones I'm aware of and the battery range of each one. I've left out the Mercedes S500 e and BMW i8 as they use gasoline combined with electric and don't appear to exclusively use battery power for any set distance.
  • Mercedes Benz C350 e R804,900
    30km all electric range
  • BMW X5 xDrive40eR1.188.600
    22km all electric range
  • BMW 740eR1,496,500
    22km all electric range
There is also the BMW i3 REX which isn't a true PHEV, it has a small motor that charges the batteries to give it extended range. The motor doesn't however directly drive the wheels.

There are several more affordable PHEV's available in other markets. Unfortunately none of them are available locally at the moment. Prices are just an approximate conversion from dollars or pounds.
  • Toyota Prius PrimeR356,692
    40km all electric range
  • Chevrolet VoltR448,761
    84km all electric range
  • Hyundai Ioniq Plug-inPrice n/a
    43km all electric range
  • Chrysler Pacifica HybridR552,742
    52km all electric range
I can't really understand why these manufacturers with a presence in South Africa don't bring their plug-in hybrid vehicles into the country. Prices are quite comparable to equivalent ICE vehicles and there is no pressure or obligation on the manufacturers part to provide a charging network. Indeed a PHEV still has the benefits of an ICE to a motor dealer. Like an ICE it still will require regular after sales servicing and maintenance. There really isn't any reason why these vehicles shouldn't be available to South African consumers.

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